Art? Art History! It’s reputable!

Questions folks have asked me about my life as an art historian, my replies, their responses:

At the salon to a visibly very wealthy woman:

“You’re at Columbia! That’s fantastic. So is my son. What are you studying.”

“I’m a grad student in art history.”

My mother: “But she did her undergrad there in Economics.”

Woman: “Well thank goodness for that. She knows some men then.”

Me: “Not enough that make enough money. That’s why I study in the business school library.”

A friend:

“So, are there any straight men in art history.”

“Yes! There are 3.”

“In your program?”

“No. In the whole world of art history. oh, and 2 are married.”

With my High School Physics teacher:

“What are you doing graduate work in?”

“Art history.”

“So that means you’re going to be a barista at Starbucks.”

“No, that means I’m going to own a coffee shop in the east village.”

With my nail technician:

“What can you do with a PhD in Art History? Be a curator at the Met or something?”

“Sure. But I want to be a professor and write books.”

“Is there any money in that?”

“Not really. But I plan to marry well, so it’ll be okay.”

at a book launch at an art gallery:

“So what kind of art do you study?”

“American art, but I focus on the period between 1860 and 1940.”

“Why that particular field?”

“Because no one believes there was art in American before 1940.”

At an alumni event 2 days later:

“What kind of art do you study?”

“American Art made between 1860 and 1940.”

“There was art in American before 1940?”

At a downtown party, with a lawyer:

“What are you writing your paper on?”

“I’m working on a piece about images of logging on the West Coast of Canada and in general, the history of environmentalist concerns in Canadian painting. So, I’m focusing on this fantastic early 20th century Canadian artist names Emily Carr and a contemporary indigenous Canadian painter.”

“There are artists in Canada?”

A Friend:

“So why exactly do you want to rush back into academia?”

“Because my boobs are too small for me to have a viable career as a porn star.” (tilted head, squinted eyes. pauses. I laugh, they laugh. inquisitor assumes look of relief)


5 thoughts on “Art? Art History! It’s reputable!

  1. Wow I can honestly say that I went through the same thing.
    I got this all the time-

    “What’s your field of study?”
    “Art History.”
    “Oh, that’s sweet. What do you plan to do with that?”

    Thanks for the laugh!

  2. My conversations usually go as follows:

    Guy at a bar: What do you study?
    Me: Theoretical Cosmology.
    Guy at a bar:


    Guy on a Plane: What do you do?
    Me: I study astrophysics.
    Guy on a plane: Oh! What sign are you?

    I think academics in general are just misunderstood.

  3. I’ve just applied to study art history at university, and I can tell you that this rather out-dated view of art history is also held in England! A friend of mine once said art history was the subject the stupid but rich girls took. But it’s not what people think of it, it’s what you make of it. Your paper sounds really interesting (although I must be honest I have, apparently like many others!) never studied pre-1940 American art, or in fact any Canadian. It takes courage to study a subject one loves even when aware of peoples’ adverse opinions, you’re a great example to all of us prospective art history students! All the best!

  4. I used to think art history was boring and couldn’t understand why I needed it to take art in high school. Then I saw a movie about Michaelangelo on the history channel and realized my take on schools in general applied here. They can make the most fascinating subjects boring!
    Art history includes the action of battle and war, mystery, intrigue, angst, drama and romance. Yet all we ever got were dull out of date textbooks and movies with a blah narrator. I’m glad that’s changing.
    I hope whatever you do with your art history, you find a way to share the adventurous side of it. Artists are such 3 dimensional characters and the more they are brought out of those old flat text books, the more people will appreciate them.

  5. 2 years after finishing my degree, and I’m knee-deep in a career in the art world. People ask, what are you going to do with that? I say, have the time of my life.

    Art history is one of those fields constantly at war with itself — do we disengage the art from its context or do we examine the art through the lens of context? The art history professors who narrow the scope of study to formal analyses of the works do the discipline an injustice.

    You’re right — artists are such 3D characters, their stories and their milieus so interesting! I love to look at a painting as a window onto another life. It is a field of adventure — a lot like Indiana Jones… in technicolor.

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